Hundreds of thousands of insomnia patients will be offered digital cognitive behavioral therapy via the app Sleepio instead of sleeping pills.

Until now, people with insomnia have typically been given advice about sleep hygiene or prescribed sleeping pills. Now they could be offered a £45 app-based treatment program on the NHS instead of pills, under new guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

Nice is recommending Sleepio as an effective alternative for the first time, saving the NHS cash and reducing prescriptions of drugs which can be addictive. An analysis found healthcare costs were lower when using Sleepio, mostly because of fewer GP appointments and sleeping pills prescribed, Nice said.

The app uses an artificial intelligence algorithm to provide people with tailored digital cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). As many as 800,000 people could benefit from the new guidelines in England.

“Until now people with insomnia have been offered sleeping pills and taught about sleep hygiene, so our committee’s recommendation of Sleepio provides GPs and their patients with a new treatment option,” said Jeanette Kusel, the acting director for MedTech and digital at Nice. “Our rigorous, transparent and evidence-based analysis has found that Sleepio is cost saving for the NHS compared with usual treatments in primary care. It will also reduce people with insomnia’s reliance on dependence-forming drugs such as zolpidem and zopiclone.

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